One of the toughest challenges of birth is how unpredictable it can be. We look to data and checks as indicators of how soon labor will start, how long it will last and how smoothly it will go. Am I dilated yet? Is the head down? Will I have my baby early? Will I have a long labor? Will I make it to the hospital in time? How painful will labor be? Will I have a vaginal birth? Will I need a c-section? Will my baby be okay? These are all normal questions. It’s expected for you to feel excited, surprised, anxious or frustrated over a process happening in your body over which it seems you have no control. Yet there are a few ways in which you can help lay the path your labor will take.
1. Stay in the moment
When your mind is calm, present and focused, you are more likely to go into labor sooner and labor faster.
Birth is very much a primal physiological process and your body knows how to proceed without your mind consciously directing it. That’s a pretty abstract concept. And yet we trust our bodies to carry on normal functions everyday without thinking about it. Hormones are triggered, muscles are enlisted, positions are changed according to comfort and effectiveness, breathing adjusts and vocal chords are engaged, all without intention and with a single orchestrated goal. This is true in birth as in other bodily functions.
Yet we are birthing in a culture that is steeped in data – data to make decisions by, data to analyze and compare, data to measure up to. Statistical averages lay a framework over natural processes, become part of our lay language, and suddenly we expect the natural process to match the data. Casual conversations at the end of pregnancy inevitably turn to what lies ahead and the numbers attached to it. How many centimeters? How many weeks? How many hours? It focuses the mind on the data and a need to keep within a perceived average.
We can tell you there is no average birth. Your birth won’t be like your friend’s or your sister’s or what you read in the book. And yet it will also be normal.
Because birth has a primal directive, your body will only release into labor when it feels safe. Anxiety, fear and stress trigger adrenaline and cortisol to be released in the body, which suppress the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is needed to initiate labor and to build strong, frequent contractions. This is the body’s survival instinct in action and it demonstrates the power of the interplay between your state of mind and how safe your body feels releasing into labor. Feelings of love, intimacy and safety trigger oxytocin to be released. In other words, when your mind is calm, present and focused, you are more likely to go into labor sooner and labor faster.
So whether it’s yoga, breathing exercises, long walks, turning off your phone and social media, asking not to be told your dilation… whatever works for you to stay focused on this moment right now – do it. It seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? Relax so you can get there faster. And yet that is part of the paradox of surrender and control in birth.
Start during your pregnancy and keep that mindset through labor. When your labor begins, unless there’s an emergency, plan a regular day. Eat a good meal that’s high in protein and snack throughout the day, take a walk, take a shower, and take a nap. Alternate activity with resting. Contractions may pick up or they may quiet down until another time. (That’s okay. That’s work you don’t have to do later.) Eventually, you will have your baby. But right now, stay in this moment in which your baby is closer to you then s/he ever will be again.
To be continued (Gah! I know. Waiting is terrible.)…
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